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Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007

URAWA REDS SNATCH EMPEROR'S CUP

'Lucky' Guido leaves as winner


Staff writer

Guido Buchwald admitted Lady Luck was smiling down upon him in his last match as Urawa coach after the Reds stole the Emperor's Cup from under the noses of a dominant Gamba Osaka on New Year's Day.

News photo
Guido Buchwald gets a "doage" from his Urawa players after the Reds beat Gamba Osaka 1-0 on Monday to win the Emperor's Cup and complete the league and cup double in the German's last game as coach. KYODO PHOTO

Buchwald's men were utterly outclassed by the Osakans in the final at Tokyo's National Stadium and had 'keeper Ryota Tsuzuki to thank for keeping them in the game before forward Yuichiro Nagai's late breakaway goal ensured the Reds gave their coach the perfect sendoff by completing the league and cup double.

"We were lucky, for sure, especially in the first half. Gamba pinned us back and we got away with a lot of near-misses," Buchwald said after Urawa's second successive Emperor's Cup victory, the Reds beating Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 in last year's final.

"We have made a lot of changes in the team for the Emperor's Cup but the players that have come in worked really hard. It's difficult to describe how happy I am today. To win a double is not easy,"

The 45-year-old Buchwald, a central defender for the Reds from 1994-97, says goodbye at the end of a successful three-year stint in the hot seat of the Saitama giants, whose league triumph was confirmed after a 3-2 win over Gamba in early December.

"I'm very happy that I was able to finish my job in Japan like this. Especially I'm happy that I worked for the club where my heart belongs," said Buchwald.

Urawa had ridden its luck throughout the competition, with an epic penalty shootout victory over Jubilo Iwata in the quarterfinals and a nervy semifinal win over Kashima Antlers. It had to lean on good fortune again against a strong Gamba side, whose forwards Ryuji Bando and Magno Alves terrorized the Reds defense throughout the match.

Contrasted to the dynamism of Alves and Bando was the lumbering Nagai leading the line for Urawa. A static presence for much of the match, when called upon his touch was heavy and pace ponderous. J. League joint-top scorer Washington, convalescing in Brazil after his feats in the league, was sorely missed. Nagai, though, would have the last word.

Substitute Masayuki Okano gathered the ball on 88 minutes from Makoto Hasebe on the right and his fresh legs gave him the space to cross the ball into the path of Nagai, whose tame shot squirmed past 'keeper Naoki Matsuyo and trickled over the line.

"I didn't have many chances to play in the league competition and I was really determined to do something special in the very end of the season," the 27-year-old Nagai said.

Tsuzuki, who frustrated Alves and Bando with some inspired goalkeeping, never gave up hope.

"Gamba kept the ball for almost all the time and we had some critical moments, but I had believed that we could score a goal," Tsuzuki said.

In front of 46,880 fans, the bracing tang in the Tokyo air had a more invigorating effect on Gamba's men during the first period. The pacy forward pairing of Alves and Bando persistently stretched the Urawa back three of Hajime Hosogai, Hideki Uchidate and Nene -- all reserves but playing because of injuries to Keisuke Tsuboi and Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Alex Santos' transfer to Austria's Salzburg.

Alves went the closest to scoring in the first period when a lolloping run brought him level with a through ball, the Brazilian turning inside Hosogai before seeing his fierce shot fly a whisker over the bar.

The bluntness of the Reds' attack was all the more frustrating because in Shinji Ono they had someone who was pulsing with the ideas and vision to unlock the Gamba defense, but was let down by too many teammates not on the same wave length.

The contrast between the two attacks was even more pronounced in the second half. The Reds rarely made it past their halfway line as Gamba continually prodded and probed for an opening, but for the main part Urawa's defenders and Tsuzuki remained stout.

When the most clear-cut chance of the second period fell to Bando, with just over five minutes remaining, Tsuzuki kept cool in the one-on-one and beat the striker's shot away to safety.



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